The prosecution contended the word “sweets” in the letter meant bombs; the defence claimed the very letter was a forgery. The 1908 Alipore bomb case—waging war against the King Emperor—had, inter alia, to deal with the knotty issue. Of the 49 arraigned, the first accused was a Bengali, Barindra Kumar Ghose, the writer of the impugned letter to accused No. 17, Aurobindo Ghose, an elder brother of his. (That the duo admitted the genuineness of the missive years later is another matter.)
Aurobindo Ghose was a Cambridge contemporary of C P Beachcroft, the trial judge. In the Indian Civil Service examination, Aurobindo stood 11th and Beachcroft 36th. The former was well versed in English, French, Latin, Greek, German, Spanish and Italian, but had to bow before the foreigner in Bengali—a language test both had to clear! Aurobindo was dropped following his unwillingness to undergo the horse riding test. On selection, Beachcroft moved to India.
Admittedly, the Ghose brothers had been involved in the activities of secret organisations such as Jugantar, their resentment fuelled principally by Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal. To both, violence was not taboo! (By a quirk of fate, Aurobindo turned an apostle of spiritualism, founding an ashram, Auroville, in Pondicherry in November 1926, today the cynosure of global attention.) Among the defence arguments, the core ones were that the chances of a person writing a letter when the two concerned were stationed at the same place and could meet and discuss unhindered were remote, that a younger sibling addressing one of his elder ones “Dear brother” did not conform to Bengali customs then prevailing since such a salutation was reserved only for the eldest one (Aurobindo was the third of five brothers) and that none, while writing letters to close relations, would sign his name in full, as Barindra purportedly did.
The entire proceedings—more than 200 witnesses, about 400 documents and 5000 exhibits—spanned over a year. England-born Barindra was given an option to be tried as a British citizen, an offer he spurned.
He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment, and released in 1920. Aurobindo was acquitted both at the level of Beachcroft (no element of friendship entered here; the judge had “an inflexible sense of justice” and the verdict was based on a “clinical” analysis of evidence) and the high court to which the matter went in appeal.
The Alipore case has left for posterity one of the finest specimens of eloquence on the part of Chittaranjan Das, the defence counsel—aptly described by eminent jurist A G Noorani in his Indian Political Trials as “a moving peroration for which Das was long remembered”.
Referring to Aurobindo’s unquenchable thirst for freedom, Das said, “It had been the one thought of his waking hours, the dream of his sleep.” The counsel went on to predict: “Long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India, but across distant seas and lands.”
A prophecy that came true!